Category Archives: Food-borne Infections

Washington scores four out of 10 on key indicators related to preventing and responding to infectious disease outbreaks

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From Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 

Washington scored only four out of 10 on key indicators related to preventing, detecting, diagnosing and responding to outbreaks, like Ebola, Enterovirus and antibiotic-resistant Superbugs.

Some key Washington findings include:

No. Indicator Washington Number of States Receiving Points
A “Y” means the state received a point for that indicator
1 Public Health Funding: Increased or maintained level of funding for public health services from FY 2012-13 to FY 2013-14. N 28
2 Preparing for Emerging Threats: State scored equal to or higher than the national average on the Incident & Information Management domain of the National Health Security Preparedness Index. Y 27 + D.C.
3 Vaccinations: Met the Healthy People 2020 target of 90 percent of children ages 19-35 months receiving recommended ≥3 doses of HBV vaccine. N 35 + D.C.
4 Vaccinations: Vaccinated at least half of their population (ages 6 months and older) for the seasonal flu for fall 2013 to spring 2014. N 14
5 Climate Change: State currently has completed climate change adaption plans – including the impact on human health. Y 15
6 Healthcare-acquired Infections: State performed better than the national standardized infection ratio (SIR) for central line-associated bloodstream infections. N 16
7 Healthcare-acquired Infections: Between 2011 and 2012, state reduced the number of central line-associated blood stream infections. N 10
8 Preparing for Emerging Threats: From July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014, public health lab reports conducting an exercise or utilizing a real event to evaluate the time for sentinel clinical laboratories to acknowledge receipt of an urgent message from laboratory. N 47 + D.C.
9 HIV/AIDS: State requires reporting of all CD4 and HIV viral load data to their state HIV surveillance program. Y 37 + D.C.
10 Food Safety: State met the national performance target of testing 90 percent of reported Escherichia coli (E. coli) O157 cases within four days. Y 38 + D.C.
Total  4

 Read the full report here.

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Snoqualmie Ice Cream Voluntary Recall

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snoqualmieSnoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream, Inc. has issued a voluntary recall of all ice cream, gelato, custard and sorbet for all flavors and container sizes produced on or after January 1, 2014 until December 15, 2014 because these products have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The ice cream, gelato, custard and sorbet were distributed in Arizona, Idaho, California, Oregon, and Washington may have been further distributed and sold in various retail outlets in Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. Continue reading

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Food inspection grades: A – B – C , easy as 1 – 2 – 3 … or is it?

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EatBy hilarykaraszkc
Public Health Insider: Behind-the-scenes of the agency protecting the health and well-being of all people in Seattle & King County

New York City has them, so does L.A. Even Toronto has them. So why aren’t there food safety inspection grades posted outside of restaurants in King County?

The answer? Food safety performance placarding is coming, and when it does, it will give patrons and establishments alike information that is meaningful, clear, and motivating.

Diners need to know actual risk

There’s a lot on the line: Studies show that restaurant placards influence consumer behavior. But research on the systems that give A-B-C grades shows that A-B-C placards don’t communicate what consumers are expect. Continue reading

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Illnesses due to raw milk on the rise

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From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Photo by Maciej Lewandowski

Photo by Maciej Lewandowski

The average annual number of outbreaks due to drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk have more than quadrupled – from an average of three outbreaks per year during 1993-2006 to 13 per year during 2007-2012. Overall, there were 81 outbreaks in 26 states from 2007 to 2012.

As more states have allowed the legal sale of raw milk, there has been a rapid increase in the number of raw milk-associated outbreaks.The outbreaks, which accounted for about 5 percent of all food-borne outbreaks with a known food source, sickened nearly 1,000 people and sent 73 to the hospital. More than 80 percent of the outbreaks occurred in states where selling raw milk was legal.

As more states have allowed the legal sale of raw milk, there has been a rapid increase in the number of raw milk-associated outbreaks.

Continue reading

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Mercer Island boil-water advisory lifted

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Photo: shrff14 on Flickr

Photo: shrff14 on Flickr

The City of Mercer Island announced Wednesday it has lifted the current Boil-Water Advisory in consultation with the state Department of Health. Restaurants may reopen after speaking directly with a Health Inspector from Public Health – Seattle & King County and following completion of step-by-step procedures.

For the sixth day in a row, water-sample test results are clear: all 18 of the latest samples revealed no presence of E. Coli or Total Coliform, and chlorine levels were adequate.  This brings the total number of samples collected to more than 100 over 6 days.

Mayor Bruce Bassett said: “I know I can speak for the whole community when I say that this day has been a long time coming. I’d like to thank staff and partner agencies for their extensive commitment to not only resolving this incident and implementing corrective measures, but also ensuring the safety of the community. We all look forward to life returning back to normal.” Continue reading

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Mercer Island boil-water advisory remains in effect

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Mon Oct 6, Noon – For the fourth day in a row, the City of Mercer Island announces that the latest water-sample test results are clear: all 18 of the samples revealed no presence of E. Coli or Total Coliform.

This includes seven samples collected with permission from residential properties. A map of the locations is available at: www.mercergov.org/files/Boil-Water_Public_Map_SampleSites_IGS.pdf

As elevated chlorination spreads ever further through the water mains, and ongoing investigative work continues to rule out many possible sources of water contamination, the multi-agency task force is now discussing the threshold needed to return to normal operations.

We need to finish the super-chlorinating process and implement our Response Plan to the point where we have either found the source or ruled out enough possibilities to feel sufficiently confident that if E. coli once existed in our system, it is now gone due to the various measures we have at this time however, the boil-water advisory is still in place.

Yesterday, Public Health – Seattle & King County reported a potential case of E. Coli infection in an Island resident; the patient has not been hospitalized.  Lab tests are still pending, and it is not possible to say whether there is any link to Mercer Island water at this point.

To report illness to Public Health, residents should call 206-296-4774.

Mercer Island School District plans to continue a regular school schedule using “heat and eat” food and special water procedures, approved by Public Health – Seattle & King County. Unless otherwise notified, parents should visit the school’s website (www.mercerislandschools.org) for the latest information. Continue reading

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Mercer Island boil-water advisory remains in place

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City Reveals Sunday Test Results and Next Actions
Boil-Water Advisory Still in Place

Drinking Water WarningSun Oct 5, 12:15 pm – The City of Mercer Island announces that the latest test results from water samples collected Saturday have been analyzed and are clear: all 18 of the samples revealed no presence of E. Coli or Total Coliform.

This includes seven samples collected with permission from residential properties.

Today’s test results mark the third day of samples free of contamination; at this time however, the boil-water advisory is still in place.

This morning, Public Health – Seattle & King County reported a potential case of E. Coli illness infection in an Island resident; the patient has not been hospitalized.

At this point, it is not possible to say whether there is any link to Mercer Island water; lab tests are pending. Contact Public Health for more information.

The City and WA State Department of Health continue to review implementation of the response plan and water quality test results in order to determine the earliest that the boil-water advisory can be lifted safely.

Mercer Island School District plans to continue a regular school schedule using “heat and eat” food and special water procedures, approved by Public Health – Seattle & King County. Unless otherwise notified, parents should visit the school’s website (www.mercerislandschools.org) for the latest information. Continue reading

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New shellfish safety map shows risks in real-time

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From the Washington State Department of Health

shellfish mapA new online shellfish safety map gives shellfish harvesters an up-to-date look at biotoxins, pollution, and bacteria levels at public beaches or on their private property.

Beach names, nearby landmarks, and specific addresses are searchable to help provide real-time information on shellfish safety risks.

The new shellfish safety map was developed to provide current information about areas where water quality conditions and public health risks are evaluated by the Department of Health. Continue reading

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Grilling tips from the Department of Health

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State officials advise: be known for great grilling, not making people sick

Photo by Michal Zacharzewski

Photo by Michal Zacharzewski

Food safety experts from the Department of Health want people to know how to protect themselves and their loved ones from foodborne illnesses, especially when preparing foods for picnics and barbecues during warm weather.

“Bacteria in or on food can multiply quickly in warm weather,” explains State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy. “By making sure food is prepared, cooked, and served properly you can reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses and be well-known for great barbecues and picnics instead of for making people sick.”

Safeguards can be taken when preparing foods to be eaten outdoors, such as using a food thermometer to make sure that meat and poultry are cooked at the correct temperature. Continue reading

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Know your hepatitis ABCs for Hepatitis Awareness Month – CDC

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From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Graphic: Millions of Americans are living with viral hepatitis.

  • Hepatitis A: Outbreaks in the US do occur.
  • Hepatitis B: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have higher rates.
  • Hepatitis C: New treatments can cure the disease.

Viral hepatitis is a major global health threat and affects over 4.4 million Americans. In observance of May as Hepatitis Awareness Month, here are brief overviews of each of the three most common types of viral hepatitis in the United States: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis A: Outbreaks in the US can and do occur

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Do not eat raw clover sprouts from Evergreen Fresh Sprouts, health officials warn

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Alert Icon

Multistate Outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coliO121 Infections Linked to Raw Clover Sprouts

Advice to Consumers – from the CDC

  • The Washington State Department of HealthExternal Web Site Icon and the Idaho Department of Health and WelfareExternal Web Site Icon are advising people not to eat raw clover sprouts produced by Evergreen Fresh Sprouts.
    • People who have these sprouts at home should not eat them and should throw them out, even if some of the product has been eaten and no one has become ill.
  • Contact your health care provider if you think you may have become ill from eating raw clover sprouts.
    • People usually get sick from STEC 2-8 days (average of 3-4 days) after swallowing the organism (germ).
    • Most people infected with STEC develop diarrhea (often bloody) and abdominal cramps.
    • Most people recover within a week.
    • People of any age can become infected. Very young children and the elderly are more likely than others to develop severe illness and complications such as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), but even healthy older children and young adults can become seriously ill.
  • Always practice food safety for sprouts.
    • Sprouts are a known source of foodborne illnessExternal Web Site Icon.
    • Children, older adults, pregnant women, and persons with weakened immune systems should avoid eating raw sprouts of any kind (including alfalfa, clover, radish, and mung bean sprouts).
    • Cook sprouts thoroughly to reduce the risk of illness. Cooking thoroughly kills the harmful bacteria.
    • Persons who think they might have become ill from eating potentially contaminated raw clover sprouts should consult their health care providers.

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E. coli outbreak linked to raw clover sprouts

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Alert Icon with Exclamation Point!Clover sprouts eaten raw are likely source of E. coli illness outbreak

Washington state health officials are warning consumers not to eat raw clover sprouts from an Idaho producer that have been linked to an outbreak of E. coli infections in the Northwest.

The sprouts have been linked to seven confirmed and three probable cases of E. coli O121 illnesses in Washington and Idaho.

Five of those patients were hospitalized; there have been no deaths.

For more details about the outbreak:  Continue reading

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Pollution halts Vaughn Bay shellfish harvest: 14 other areas threatened

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Pollution to close shellfish harvest in one area; 14 others listed as threatened
Fecal bacteria levels force new restrictions to protect shellfish consumers

From the Washington State Department of health:

Alert Icon with Exclamation Point!OLYMPIA — The state Department of Health has closed harvesting in part of Vaughn Bay in Pierce County due to high levels of fecal bacteria. Health officials also identified 14 more of Washington’s 101 commercial shellfish growing areas that could be closed in the future if fecal pollution continues to get worse.

“The good news is that the pollution problems in almost all these areas can be found and fixed,” said Bob Woolrich, Growing Area section manager. “There have been many successful pollution correction projects using partnerships with local and state agencies, Tribes, and others.”

The agency shellfish program evaluates the state’s shellfish growing areas every year to see if water quality is approaching unsafe limits. If so, areas are listed as “threatened” with closure.

Shellfish harvesting areas threatened with closure include:

Continue reading

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Keep germs off the guest list at holiday meals

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Uncooked turkey in a pot

Keep all your guests healthy by following these food safety tips from the Snohomish Health District.

Proper planning.

Make sure your kitchen has everything you need for safe food handling, including two cutting boards (one for raw meats and seafood and the other for ready-to-eat foods), a food thermometer, shallow containers for cooling and storage, paper towels and soap.

Store foods in the refrigerator at 41°F or below or in the freezer at 0°F or below. Check the temperature of both the refrigerator and freezer with a refrigerator thermometer.

Safe shopping. 

At the grocery store, bag raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from ready-to-eat foods like fruit, vegetables and bread. Don’t buy bruised or damaged produce, or canned goods that are dented, leaking, bulging or rusted, as these may become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. Buy cold foods last and bring foods directly home from the store.

Always refrigerate perishable foods, such as raw meat or poultry, within two hours. Thaw frozen turkey in the refrigerator or under cold-running water. Never defrost the turkey at room temperature.

Working in the kitchen. 

Got extra helpers in the kitchen? Make sure everyone washes their hands thoroughly with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food, visiting the restroom, or changing a baby’s diapers. Keep all work surfaces sanitized, too. Spray or wipe on a solution of 1 tsp of unscented bleach per gallon of cold water.

When baking holiday treats, remember that no one should eat raw cookie dough or brownie batter containing raw eggs. Make eggnog with pasteurized eggs and pasteurized milk, or simply buy it ready-made with those ingredients.

Adding a nip of brandy or whiskey will not kill the germs. When making homemade eggnog, be sure to cook the mixture to 165°F, then refrigerate.

Cook. 

Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the

harmful bacteria that cause illness. Cook your turkey to a minimum of 165°F as measured with a food thermometer, including the stuffing.

The healthiest method is to prepare and cook the stuffing separately – outside the bird. Test the bird’s temp in the thickest part of the thigh, the breast, and the inside. Don’t let the tip of the thermometer rest against bone.

Potluck contributions. 

Remember to keep hot foods hot (135°F or higher) and cold foods cold (41°F or below). To help keep foods hot wrap dishes in foil, cover them in heavy towels, or put them in insulated containers designed to keep food hot.

For cold foods, put them in a cooler with ice or freezer packs, or use an insulated container with a cold pack so they remain at 41°F or lower, especially if traveling for more than half an hour.

Buffet, anyone? 

If you set up food in a buffet line, take care to put spoons in each dish for self-service, and assist children in filling their plates. No fingers allowed!

Wrap it up! 

Throw away all perishable foods, such as meat, poultry, eggs and casseroles, left at room temperature longer than two hours. Refrigerate or freeze other leftovers in shallow, air-tight containers and label with the date it was prepared. Reheat leftovers to 165°F.

Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 41°F or below is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of an at-home food-borne illness.

Eat cooked turkey and stuffing within 3-4 days and gravy in 1-2 days. Cooked turkey keeps up to 4 months in the freezer. Reheat leftovers to 165°F as measured with a food thermometer, and bring gravy and sauces to a boil before serving. Microwaved leftovers shouldn’t have cold spots (bacteria can survive). Cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking.

Following these food safety steps at your house will make the meal a happy memory for everyone. Happy, healthy holidays from the Snohomish Health District!

Additional resources:

Free kit

The Holiday Food Safety Success Kit at www.holidayfoodsafety.org provides food safety advice and meal planning in one convenient location.

The kit includes information on purchasing, thawing and cooking a turkey; a holiday planner with menus, timelines, and shopping lists; and dozens of delicious (and food-safe) recipes. ]

The kit also has arts and crafts activities and downloads for kids so they can join the holiday fun.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

1-888-SAFEFOOD: For questions about safe handling of the many foods that go into a delicious holiday meal, including eggs, dairy, fresh produce and seafood.

Escherichia Coli_NIAID E Coli BacteriaNothing can ruin a party quite like food poisoning. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 31 pathogens known to cause food-borne illness.

Every year there are an estimated 48 million cases of illness, 128,000 hospitalizations, and 3,000 deaths in the United States due to food-borne diseases.

Typical symptoms of food-borne illness are vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps which can start hours to days after contaminated food or drinks are consumed.

The symptoms usually are not long-lasting in healthy people—a few hours or a few days—and usually go away without medical treatment.

But food-borne illness can be severe and even life-threatening to anyone, especially those most at risk such as infants and young children, pregnant women, older adults, people with HIV/AIDS, cancer or any condition or medication that weakens the immune system.

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Federal shutdown alarms state health officials

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Photo: James Gathany/CDC

Photo: James Gathany/CDC

By Melissa Maynard
StatelineStaff Writer

This week more than 11,000 U.S. Muslims are expected to join millions of other pilgrims in Mecca for the annual Hajj pilgrimage. When the Americans return home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local health departments will be watching for any sign of the MERS virus that has caused severe acute respiratory illness in 140 people since 2012, killing about half of them.

But because of the shutdown of the federal government, about 9,000 of the CDC’s 15,000 workers have been furloughed. James Blumenstock, chief of public health practice for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said states are concerned that the absence of those workers might slow down identification and response to MERS cases if the virus spreads to the U.S.

Since the shutdown, the CDC’s bi-weekly conference calls with state health officials to share new information about MERS and other emerging global threats have stopped, Blumenstock said. “Since Oct. 1, we have not scheduled one or had the opportunity to talk to anyone about scheduling the next one.”

MERS is just one of many possible public health risks state health officials are worried about handling without the full support of the CDC and other federal agencies. Another big one within U.S. borders is the flu season that began Oct. 1.

In a Wednesday conference call with state health officials from across the country, CDC Director Tom Frieden assured states that the agency would be available to assist in emergency situations, but acknowledged that its response might be slower because of the shutdown.

“We have been told that that if we needed support for a large-scale event, it would require pulling staff back in, and that the response time could be delayed,” said Wendy Braund, Wyoming’s state health officer. “That is a very real concern to us.”

CDC in the States

States rely on the CDC to step in when outbreaks cross state lines and for technical support and lab testing when unusual situations arise. The federal agency also helps fund and staff a range of programs, embedding its own experts in state health agencies to help with a range of programs from immunizations to AIDS prevention. Many of these people have been furloughed.

Also, certain public health functions rely heavily on federal grants, which will become more critical if the shutdown continues. Hawaii State Epidemiologist Sarah Park was handling multiple investigations when she learned that her work may be interrupted because her division gets 90 percent of its money from the federal government.

“Basically, toward the end of last week, it was realized that … the state had only sufficient federal funds drawn down to make the Oct 5th payroll,” she said in an email.

“If the federal shutdown doesn’t resolve soon,” she said, “we could be facing a major crisis whether because staff have to be laid off and/or because we aren’t able to place vaccine orders or have them completed because the federal system is down.”

CDC officials acknowledged the challenges the shutdown has created for its partners at the state level. “We’re actually really concerned about what is happening with the states, and down the road if this continues,” said John O’Connor of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

Emergency Response

The CDC can call back employees to respond to emergencies, according to Barbara Reynolds, a CDC crisis communication specialist. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday issued a public health alert for an outbreak of an antibiotic-resistant strain of salmonella linked to chicken produced by Foster Farms in California.

The outbreak has sickened 278 consumers in 17 states. In response, the CDC called back two-thirds of the 30-person team that tracks foodborne illnesses. It has updated its website with details of its ongoing investigation into the outbreak, including a map detailing cases by state.

Still, Reynolds acknowledged it’s not the same as when the CDC is fully functioning. “We have 9,000 people from CDC furloughed, which means 9,000 fewer people to answer the phones and take phone calls from people in state agencies,” she  said. “Some of that collaboration is just gone right now.”

In Oregon, eight salmonella cases have been linked to the outbreak. Katrina Hedberg, the state’s chief epidemiologist and health officer, said the CDC’s national databases connected the salmonella strain to Foster Farms based on evidence from cases in other states. “Looking at our Oregon cases, it wouldn’t be obvious that they were linked,” she said.

But the state received less information than it would have from a fully functioning CDC. “Normally we’d be hearing about this before, and we’d be having conference calls beforehand,” she said. Instead, Hedberg said the general public learned about the outbreak only shortly after she and her staff did – and from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service rather than the CDC.

Flu Season

One of the most significant looming public health threats is the flu. State health officials are concerned about how the shutdown will affect their ability to fight its spread, since they rely on the CDC to track and monitor cases to better prepare their public health response.

Michael Cooper, Alaska’s deputy state epidemiologist, said his department has received “a flurry of emails about how CDC influenza monitoring and surveillance staff would be at minimal levels and online applications might not be functional for recording data that demonstrates national/state activity related to influenza.”

Blumenstock, of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, said there are critical flu-related functions the CDC cannot currently perform because of the shutdown.

For example, at this point in the season, the CDC typically tests early flu strains to see how well they match with the seasonal vaccine. That information gives public health officials important clues about what to expect from flu season and how to adjust their strategies.

The CDC also conducts an annual public awareness campaign, tests early cases of the flu to determine resistance to antivirals and provides regular surveillance information to states.

Much of that assistance simply isn’t happening, Blumenstock said. “Depending on how bad flu season turns out to be, that could provide increased risk of illness or death if CDC doesn’t get back in business.”

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Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Center on the States that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

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